Verdict: THE DEAD DAYS JOURNAL: VOLUME 1 is a gleefully gothic apocalyptic romance. It does have some disturbing plot points, so, like its end-of-days-surviving characters, it’s best to go in prepared.
THE DEAD DAYS JOURNAL: VOLUME 1 is a skillful, suspenseful work of paranormal romance. Campbell does a good job of developing her small community of survivors, of showing the joy that keeps them going in tough times. So when things get even tougher for them, you genuinely care.
This skill is also evident in the patient way she builds the central romance, between Leo and a vampire type creature named Orrin. Campbell’s vampires are refreshingly strange, with midnight-colored skin, black hair, blue blood, pointy ears, and pumpkin eyes. She never lets you forget that they are a different species with a different culture, so watching the romantic leads develop trust and attraction despite these differences is intriguing.
As befits the desperation of its setting, THE DEAD DAYS JOURNAL: VOLUME 1 does not shy away from some rather disturbing themes. Leo is a strong, well-developed character, but she is constantly put in situations that threaten her bodily autonomy, including an attempted rape. A child character is also sexually abused. This can be hard to read. Also, because of the pace of the narrative, the characters face trauma without ever really having time to recover. This becomes true for the reader as well. You keep turning the pages to find out what happens next, and only when you finish do you process the horror of some of what you’ve read. This isn’t a criticism per se. In fact, it’s more or less a convention of the paranormal romance genre. But it’s important to go in prepared if you are easily triggered by descriptions of sexual assault or physical violence.
Lastly, Vincent, Leo’s father, has albinism. Since I also have albinism, I’m especially sensitive to portrayals of people with albinism in fiction. There is a problematic trope in media from The Matrix Reloaded to The Da Vinci Code of portraying people with albinism as villains. While Vincent ends up doing some truly horrible things, I didn’t mind his albinism for this reason. His negative actions didn’t spring from his albinism, but rather the desperation of the situation he was in, and Campbell mostly used it to give him a sympathetic backstory. What did bother me is that she only addressed the physical characteristics of albinism—pale skin and hair—and ignored the physical limitations that go with it such as poor eyesight and sensitivity to sunburn. Since she includes another character with poor vision, this error especially stuck out. If you are going to give a character a disability or genetic condition, I think it’s important to research the condition fully. Besides, reading about how Vincent became the leader of a group of apocalyptic survivors despite poor vision and sun sensitivity would have only enhanced his character.
Overall, however, if you enjoy paranormal romance, you will want to read THE DEAD DAYS JOURNAL: VOLUME 1 and will be anxious for VOLUME 2.
~Olivia Rosane for IndieReader